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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Negeri Sembilan 4-0 Sabah: Nazrin’s hattrick illuminates a dour match

Shah Alam Stadium was the chosen venue for one of two playoff matches for the night, with the victors progressing to the Malaysia Cup draw. In a neutral stadium, Negeri Sembilan (NS) and Sabah played in front of a sparse crowd. The majority in the crowd were supporting Sabah and their every scream echoed through an almost empty stadium.

 However, their excitement soon turned to anger and disappointment. Within 15 minutes of the opening whistle, the Borneo side were already staring at a defeat. Nazrin Nawi’s double salvo put Sabah to the sword in the opening period of the first half. A well struck freekick in the 12th minute and a converted penalty in the 15th minute, saw NS took a well deserved 2-0 lead.

To make matters worse for Sabah, Shahrul Azhar was sent off in conceding the penalty. One man down and 2 goals behind, so early in the game, would knock the stuffing out of any team. To their credit, Sabah made themselves more compact and began to manufacture chances of their own after that. Two most credible chances fell onto the path of import, Abdelfatah Safi.

The first, his shot from inside the box was blocked. His second, direct from a freekick, forced Hamsani Ahmad to nervously palm it away. The designated away side had to be careful in trying to salvage the game, by not being callous in defence. Luckily for them, S. Sivanesan and Shahurain Abu Samah couldn’t convert their chances and Sabah were let off the hook. At the start of the second half, NS piled on the pressure on Sabah.

The ‘home’ side used their numerical advantage fully by utilising every blade of grass on the pitch. Before long, the lead was increased as Leandro Fabio added his name to the score sheet. Nazrin’s blocked shot rebounded kindly into the path of the Argentine and the result was inevitable. abah players looked increasingly tired from chasing shadows and that put paid to their efforts to attack. Koh Traore was left isolated up front as his team mates struggled to move the ball to him.

The one time that they managed that, it was through a set piece. Traore’s bicycle kick from outside the box was too weak and easily collected by Hamsani. The final nail in Sabah’s coffin came in the final minute of the match. Nazrin completed his hattrick with a sweet left foot strike from outside the box. Game, set and match to NS.

 The difference between both sides was evident to all who were present at the venue. The movement from the Super League side was far better than the Premier League side. The lower division side just couldn’t cope with the cleverness of NS players. It’s a sorry sight for Sabah to end their adventure in this manner. It would have made for a better spectacle had Shahrul not been sent off.

Though from this performance, it would still be hard to imagine anything other than a win for NS. In the end, the worst team in the Super League got the win they desired. Unfortunately for them, it might be a different story once the Malaysia Cup starts.

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